The world has a way of twisting together the fates of people and sometimes those twists and turns can turn cruel, and even unbearable, especially to friends and family that lose a loved one.
Their paths crossed with 25-year-old Sonny Zimmerman, a 2005 graduate of Waynesfield-Goshen High School, who died Tuesday while serving in the U.S. Army over seas.
Shortly before noon Wednesday, U.S. Department of Defense officials announced Zimmerman died Tuesday, July 16, in Mushaka, Afghanistan, of wounds he suffered when his vehicle was attacked by a rocket propelled grenade.
He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Campbell, Ky. The unit is better known as the Band of Brothers.
As with most, the path that Zimmerman had taken to his untimely death was not a straight road. While he had dreamed of being in the military from a young age, as he got older and entered junior high his plans began to change.
“He kind of started talking about careers when he was in junior high and had started making plans to go into graphic design,” said Chris Zimmerman, Sonny’s father. “He was talking about going to Bowling Green State University.”
The first of those interesting turns happened shortly after.
While Sonny was beginning his freshman year at Waynesfield-Goshen, four passenger airliners were hijacked by 19 al-Qaida terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 and flown into buildings in suicide attacks. The planes were used as weapons as they were flown into the World Trade Center complex and the Pentagon, a fourth plane, which had been targeted for the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after
passengers tried to overtake the hijackers.
From that point, Sonny’s focuses changed back to the military.
“He had his mind made up,” his father said. “He wanted to join the Marines.”
Another twist in Sonny’s life occurred soon after that. He planned on signing up through the delayed entry program when he was 17, and soon after hitting that age, he made plans with his father to visit a Marine recruiter in Lima.
However, after arriving at the recruiting office, the Marine recruiter wasn’t there. The Army recruiter was, so Sonny and his father decided to check it out.
“We met with the Army recruiter and I was very impressed with him,” Chris Zimmerman said. “I told my son, if you come out of this being half as mature as that guy, you would have done well.”
Sonny was a natural born leader, and after eight years he worked himself to the rank of staff sergeant.
Those leadership skills began to show early in his life, as reflected by his former baseball coach, Tim Pence, who is now principal at Waynesfield-Goshen Elementary School.
“He was a total team player,” Pence said. “Vocally, he was the leader of the team. The other kids instantly looked to him to lead the direction of the team. He did his best. He played real hard.”
His skills as a leader, pitcher and catcher with the baseball team translated well to the military, and he quickly became a leader respected by all.
Sonny had the same affect while a member of the football team.
“He always liked it,” Chris Zimmerman said. “He liked what he did. He considered those under him as ‘his men.’ To him, they were the best.”
Sonny was living his dream life on his terms, defending his country. He served two tours in the war on terror, and then married the love of his life, Morgan, in September of last year, while treating her 5-year-old step-daughter, Riley, as if she was his own.
Life would have one more twist for him soon after.
During his third tour of duty, Sonny was injured in a June 3 attack, along with 15 other people. Ten school children and two other G.I.s were also killed in the attack. Sonny suffered injuries to his arm and back and had shrapnel in his leg.
In that final twist in his life, Sonny would return to serve.
“He was the only one of all of those injured that returned,” his father said. “He felt he had a job to do, and he loved doing it.”
The last of many unexpected turns took Sonny’s life on Tuesday while doing what he loved. The sting of the loss will undoubtedly be felt by his wife, family, friends and soldiers who looked for him for leadership.
While such a loss is hard to bear, Chris Zimmerman said if he could somehow get a message to those he had left behind, he knows exactly what it would be.
“He would tell everybody it is OK,” his father said. “Everything will be alright. I got to do what I wanted to do. I got to be where I wanted to be. Don’t worry about me. Just remember the fun things we did. That is what he would say.”
Chris said that Sonny never saw himself as a hero, that he saw the other soldiers he led as the true heroes. Perhaps that is one of the several traits that made it obvious of what he was. A true hero.
Sonny will be remembered as an avid hockey fan who had a love for the Detroit Red Wings. His favorite player, as his father put it, “was anybody who played on the Red Wings.”
His love of hockey will be one of the reflections they had of Sonny, going to participate in roller hockey leagues in Lima and Celina.
If it wasn’t game day, he shared in the fun with his sister, Baily, who is also now in the military. Sonny would have Baily dress in complete gear and play goalie, while he tried to slide the ball passed her for the score.
“If you looked at his pictures, he was always smiling,” Chris Zimmerman said. “He was electric. He walked into a room as if he owned it. He would simply ask everyone to support his guys over there, and to support his family here.”
Sonny will soon be buried and friends and family will do their best to move along with life and its unexpected twists and turns. However, Sonny will now forever be remembered as a person he insisted he was not, a true American hero.